Meet Mark. He changed his career in his late 40s through volunteering, and now works his dream job as a successful gardener for a stately home in Yorkshire, UK. This is his story of how he “turned a crap situation into a brilliant one”, and his top tips for how volunteering can help change your career.
When Mark was made redundant from his middle-management marketing job five years ago, he thought his world had come to an end.
“It felt catastrophic,” he told me. “But after I’d come round a bit, I wanted to use the situation as an opportunity, rather than see it only as a disaster.”
After an initial period volunteering in marketing roles to keep his skills fresh on his enforced career-break, Mark thought more deeply about what he really liked doing. Marketing didn’t make the list.
His passion? Gardening.
Despite some green fingers and a home that comes complete with chickens, beehives, and a well-stocked veggie patch, Mark had no formal experience or qualifications in anything horticultural.
“I looked at where I was at the time, and where I wanted to be”
“Volunteering seemed like the best way to go about making the change, and I did some odd gardening jobs for friends and neighbours too.”
Mark volunteered part-time at Nostell Priory, an 18th century stately home in Yorkshire set in 300 acres of parkland.
He says: “It was a bit of an eye-opener at first – the resources were more limited than I was used to, and it made me wonder if some big corporates couldn’t learn something about being a bit more creative in how they achieve their aims.”
The job offer
Mark’s hard work as a volunteer gardener came to fruition about a year later, when he was the successful candidate for a vacancy as a paid full-time gardener.
“This job feels like something I can believe in,” he says. “I have responsibility for my own area of garden here and my own ten-year-plan for it, so it’s a different kind of responsibility from the corporate office environment.”
“I feel proud of my work, and of what I’ve achieved. It took a while, but by volunteering I managed to turn a crap situation into a brilliant one.”
Mark’s top tips on how to change your career through volunteering
- Be a sponge. Take it all in and be seen to work hard and be enthusiastic about learning new things.
- Be kind to everyone you work with. Colleagues, customers etc. When that dream job does come up, you don’t want the boss to think you’re a difficult person who they don’t want on their team.
- Keep the faith. It can take a while for your career-change dreams to come to fruition. But keep at it!
- Do-it.org is a database of UK volunteering vacancies
- The CareerShifters crew have all sorts of useful advice about how to change your career, plus loads of inspirational stories to kick-start your motivation for change
Have you volunteered to help change your career? Or have you found an un-planned career-change as a result of volunteering? Share your volunteering stories below.